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New process to make nanospheres developed at NDSU

Published April 12, 2013

Controlling the release of a life-saving drug in the human body. Detecting dangerous diseases at an early stage. Creating better, more durable engineering materials are scientific challenges that could impact everyday life. A patent-pending technology discovered by a research team at North Dakota State University could help researchers find solutions to these challenges, along with many others.

A 3 a.m. Eureka! moment
Victoria Gelling, associate professor in the Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials at NDSU, had a “Eureka!” moment when she woke early one morning – 3 a.m., to be precise, an hour when most of us are still sleeping. Gelling used early morning creativity to imagine a new way to oxidize monomers, which are relatively small and simple molecules, into polymers, which are larger, more complex molecules that can be used to create synthetic materials. Gelling hypothesized that oxidizing ozone in water might accomplish this task.

Later that day in the lab, Gelling and her team tested the hypothesis. On the first try, they created a suspension of nearly perfectly rounded, uniformly sized nanospheres, ranging from 70 to 400 nanometers in diameter. In addition to their uniform size, the nanospheres stay suspended in the solution and are easily removed using a centrifuge.

“The synthesis of the nanospheres is rather simple, with no other chemicals required other than water, ozone, and the small molecules which will become the polymers,” Gelling said. “We also have tight control of the size, as they are beautiful, perfect marbles.”

The applications for these “perfect marbles” are numerous. In the paints and coatings industry, Gelling notes that this process could help keep various elements of a dispersion, such as a paint or cosmetic, from separating. It also could be used to create new coatings based on nanoparticles that could provide increased protection against corrosion, along with superior abrasion resistance.

Due to their small size, nanospheres also can be used in the production of high performance electronic devices and energy-efficient digital displays. Nanospheres can be used to create materials with a high rate of conductivity, as well as smaller, lighter parts for consumer electronics.

In the biomedical arena, nanospheres containing silver can be used as an antibacterial coating for dressing a wound or as tiny nanosensors, which, when dispersed in the bloodstream, could aid in the early detection of diseases such as cancer.

The use of this innovation in pharmaceuticals could be the most exciting of all. When medicine is encapsulated in nanospheres, the medicine can be delivered directly to the diseased cells in the body, using a lower dosage with reduced side effects. It also would be possible to control the exact timing and location of the drug’s release through an external process, such as the application of a light electrical charge or a magnetic field.

The environmentally friendly process developed by Gelling’s team at NDSU produces uniform polymer-based nanospheres that are low cost and easily reproducible. This process would allow easy scale-up of the operation to high production levels without requiring expensive, specialized manufacturing equipment.

NDSU’s research team for this technology includes Gelling; graduate research assistant Abhijit Jagnnath Suryawanshi, Omerga, India; Chris Vetter, MS ’11, Moorhead, Minn.; and Jessica Lamb, Fargo, N.D., now a graduate student at Cornell University.

The process to develop nanospheres discovered at NDSU’s Department of Coatings and Polymeric Materials was developed with support under Grant Number W911NF-09-2-0014, awarded by the U. S. Army Research Office.

The patent pending nanospheres technology is available for licensing/partnering through the NDSU Research Foundation. Contact 701-231-8173 or



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North Dakota State University
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Last Updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 11:21:42 AM